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World issues

Plastic pollution

Beach polluted with plastics on the Red Sea, EgyptBeach polluted with plastics on the Red Sea, EgyptMarine life is facing "irreparable damage" from the estimated 10 million tonnes of plastic waste that ends up in the oceans each year, the United Nations has warned. In total, there may be as much as 300 million tonnes of plastic polluting the oceans. Most pieces are smaller than 5 mm and come from clothing or food and drinks packaging. Just 5% of the world's plastic is currently recycled and, with throwaway plastic products on the increase, the amount of plastic ending up in the ocean—having been dumped at sea or via the rivers that flow into it—is predicted to rise steeply, too.

A variety of plastic itemsA variety of plastic items


Plastics are synthetic compounds: they have been chemically manufactured, rather than occur naturally. Most plastics are made from naturally occurring fossil fuels, such as petroleum, coal and natural gas. The most commonly used plastic is polyethylene, found in bags, containers and bottles, which is made from the natural gas ethylene. 

Some scientists predict that by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish by weight in the oceans.

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